CRESTVIEW — Last summer, Okaloosa County residents enjoyed the Pokemon Go craze. This summer, an increasing number have found a new phenomenon: in the form of inspirational rocks.

The Crestview Rocks and Okaloosa Rocks Facebook groups have more than 3,000 members between them who enjoy painting, hiding, finding and sharing decorated rocks for themselves and others.

The Kindness Rocks Project, a global effort, inspired such gatherings. Megan Murphy, a women’s empowerment coach, lost her parents at a young age and would search for signs on morning walks, divine messages to let her know everything would be OK, according to her website, thekindnessrocksproject.com. Murphy realized others needed similar signs and a hobby (painting and hiding rocks) soon became a movement. 

BRINGING THE TREND TO CRESTVIEW 

Crestview resident Nicole Bishop started the local rock group in February.

"My mom discovered a rock group where she lives down by Tampa. So I looked for one here and found Okaloosa Rocks. I noticed not a lot of people were hiding rocks in Crestview, so I decided to start a group for just here," Bishop said.

The family-friendly trait is just one reason Bishop enjoys the activity.

"I love seeing families come together to paint and hunt rocks,” she said. “I've had people say that finding a little painted rock brightened their day. Some people have used this as a form of therapy, some to help with anxiety and depression, and some to get out and exercise.”

Her favorite types of rocks are those with positive messages. While they're also her favorite ones to paint, rock decoration subjects vary.

Both Facebook pages bear photos of rocks that look like ladybugs, turtles and other animals. Some have military symbols, television and movie themes. Most also include the Facebook group name on the back for later posting online.

Facebook members often post photos of the rocks they have finished painting and hiding, and some give clues about where people may find them. 

‘IT’S A VERY COOL THING’ 

Amy Huwa started Okaloosa Rocks in 2016. She'd been a member of the Whidbey Island Rocks group in Washington before moving to Niceville.

"The whole reason I started my rock page here was because when I moved here I didn't know anybody at all. And that's what I missed the most," she said. "I thought if I could start a page here, I could start meeting more like-minded people."

And Huwa has found those people. About 2,300 have answered the call since she started the page, for a variety of reasons.

"Personally, I know people that have had horrible, crippling anxiety and depression, and they're getting outside of their house looking for rocks. They start doing that and it pushes them forward," Huwa said.

One of the best parts about the experience is where some of the rocks wind up.

"I've had rocks taken back to Canada, Mexico, Chile and even had one geocached," Huwa said.

"I've had people start groups because they found my rock. It's a very cool thing." 

GETTING STARTED 

Here are Bishop and Huwa's recommendations for beginners.

1. Get some rocks. (The cost varies, but purchase locations include Lowe's river rocks for $8 to $9 a bag in Crestview; $5 per bucket at Helms Hauling and Materials in Niceville; and assorted prices at dollar stores.)

2. Clean residue off rocks.

3. Decorate them with inexpensive acrylic paint, Sharpies or markers (Huwa prefers the Posca brand).

4. Put the name of your rock group's Facebook page on the back so those who find them can post photos there later if they wish. Huwa recommends people add their initials as well.

5. Finish each rock with a sealant, like Mod Podge, for durability.

6. Hide them in a public place, where no mowing is required. Participants can also hide rocks on private property after getting permission from the owner. Popular Crestview locations include around the lake at Twin Hills and up and down Main Street. "I also like to leave one wherever I go," Bishop said. "Whether it's the grocery store, gas station, dentist, anywhere. I always throw a couple in my purse to leave on my way out."

7. Those who come across a decorated rock may keep or hide it, and share it with the rock group if they wish.

There are only a few other tips to keep in mind.

"You just have to remember that once you paint a rock and hide it, it's no longer yours. It may get posted in the group, it may not. Someone might decide to re-hide it or keep it. It may travel to another state or end up in the trash," Bishop said.

"You just have to let it go and hope it made someone smile."